Dragon’s Back 2017 – Tracking and Dragon Mail

Please donate to my cause, Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Plymouth – HERE

I thought I’d give you a quick update with a couple of days to go before Dragon’s Back 2017. Read on for an update on how to track and message me during the race, as well as a bit of info about my training progress and race strategy.

richardImportant bits for race week first. You can:

The organiser will also be putting regular race updates onto Facebook here. There may also be an update or two going onto the Bike Run Swim Facebook page from my family.

Dragons Back 2017 Logo

Thanks to everyone for your support so far. I am nearing my fundraising target of £1000 thanks to a very generous donation from Chris Williams of Elite Spas and Leisure. It came at the end of a long week and it absolutely made my day. DSRT Plymouth were over the moon with it as well. I still have a little way to go though, so please do donate if you can afford to do so.

My training has gone really well, although work and the occasional bug have got in the way so it hasn’t been perfect. The support from my coach, Charles Miron of Solo Sport Systems, has been outstanding and since recruiting him last autumn I have been busting PBs all through winter at ultra distances as well as some shorter races too. One of the first things that I did, on Charles’ recommendation, was to get my lactate threshold measured. I had this done by Ben Anniss at the Marjons’ Sports Science Lab in Plymouth. My subsequent training was then strongly based around those zones. You can read about my cool day out at Marjons here.

I certainly feel that I am fit and ready enough to start Dragon’s Back. I also have more confidence than I have ever had prior to a race. With that said it is a long and complicated race, so I’ll need a bit of luck on top of all that to see me through to the finish on Friday. Whatever happens I will have given it everything that I can to get me as far as possible.

Race strategy

I have a fairly straight forward strategy in terms of food, drink and electrolytes. I will be switching things around a little during the week, with a few treats stashed in my drop bag, to keep things interesting. The level of effort should be low for most of the time, so that I can’t eat real food on occasion. Straight forward isn’t quite the same as simple, so I’ve got lots of labelled bags for the various days. This means that on the day I don’t have to think about it too much. If I simply pack what I’ve labelled then I will have the basics. I can switch things around after that depending on how I feel

With regards to pace, times and finishing positions: I couldn’t give a jot about the latter. Sticking to my plan and finishing is what matters. Where I end up overall is largely a matter of who is at the finish line on day 5. Broadly I expect to be in the front third, but I’ll settle for finishing last if that’s what a finish means.

For pace I am going out slow. The first two days are so rough and hilly that they are pretty much long walks rather than runs. On day 1 we start at 7am and if I am finished much before 6pm then I’ve gone too fast! It isn’t until day 3 that things get a bit more runnable in places, but by then I still wont be doing anything rash. I’ll have the hilliest days behind me and muscles will be sore right from the start. Day 3 is about survival, as is day 4. The final day, day 5, will be an interesting one. Everyone is going to be knackered, and seeking to get as much as they can from extremely tired bodies and minds. All being well this may be my fastest day, but possibly not as 37% of it is on rough ground with no paths!

Dragons Back GPS Tracking

Track me here.

Weather

Ah, the weather. It is looking like a very British forecast. I was hoping for some clear skies on Monday so that I could get some good views and photos on the 3000 footers, including Crib Goch! Unfortunately the Mountain Weather Forecast for Snowdonia for Monday s currently saying things like:

  • Local 40mph winds
  • Cloud: Extensive. Likely to shroud many hills
  • Little, if any, sun
  • 20% chance of cloud free summits (in my experience anything less than 70% means no cloud free summits!)

There is still time for it to change though and thankfully it looks like the weather will brighten as things go on.

With that said, I generally do pretty well in terrible weather so it doesn’t bother me too much. The weather is the same for everyone and I’ll just get on with it. It does make navigation a little more fun though!

Final words

Some of you are probably reading the above thinking “that sounds horrible,” however I am really looking forward to it. I am strong and fit. I am raising money for a good cause. And I simply love spending all day out in the hills. It’s going to be bloody hard though! See you on the other side 🙂

Please donate to my cause, Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Plymouth – HERE

Dragon’s Back 2017 – Bike Run Swim – Press Release

Dragons Back

Ivybridge Adventurer to tackle the hardest 5 day running race in the world!

By Richard Lander Stow

8th May 2017

THE DRAGON’S BACK race is widely renowned as the toughest five day running race in the world, and it starts for the fourth time on Monday 22nd May 2017. On the start line will be Ivybridge Adventurer Richard Lander Stow running in aid of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Plymouth. The original race took part in 1992 and it has a fearsome reputation with 65% of the field expected to fail in the attempt. This incredible 5-day journey is 315 kilometres long with 15,500 metres of ascent across wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain. It travels north to south along the mountainous spine of Wales.

RICHARD has been training hard after successfully completing Iceland’s toughest foot race in September 2016, The Fire and Ice Ultra, and has given himself every chance of successfully completing the Dragon’s Back. With that said a finish is far from guaranteed with the first day alone covering 33 miles and 3823m ascent including many infamous Welsh mountains such as Tryfan, The Glyders, Crib Goch and Snowdon.

During the race the competitors will be wearing GPS trackers so you will be able to see how Richard is doing. The race starts at 0700 on Monday the 22nd May and finishes sometime in the afternoon/evening on Friday 26th May. The link to Richard’s tracker will be available at the links below, and will be published before the race starts.

Dartmoor Search & Rescue Team (DSRT) Plymouth

Finding loved ones and saving lives in the communities of Plymouth, Dartmoor and the surrounding areas.

RICHARD feels that DSRT – Plymouth are a worthy cause to raise money for with such an ambitious challenge and you can follow his progress at either of the following links:

www.justgiving.com/dragonsback2017

www.facebook.com/BikeRunSwim

RICHARD hasn’t just randomly chosen DSRT Plymouth. They were an integral part to his Ivybridge Everest Challenge in January 2016 when Richard travelled up and down the most southerly tor on Dartmoor, Western Beacon, 28 times over 19 hours in torrid weather conditions. This was all done in aid of St Luke’s Hospice where Richard’s father passed away from a brain tumour 1 year before. DSRT Plymouth were there for the whole thing making sure that Richard and his supporters were safe on the hillside. They were the first people on the hill and the last ones off it.

Please do support Richard in his attempt. If you have any further questions then his contact details are below.

Richard Lander Stow

Email: richard@rlstow.uk

Further contact details available on request.

20170508 Dragons Back press release.PDF

Digging Deep – Dragon in Training

In around 6 weeks I’ll be towing the start line to the Dragon’s Back, which I am doing to raise money for Dartmoor Search and Rescue – Plymouth. The Dragon’s Back is such a tough challenge that I’ve been focussed and training for it since September 2016. Over the last few months I have continually pushed myself to higher and higher levels. I am 40 years old and all of my previous personal bests are tumbling with this new focus.

It’s been hard fitting the training around a new job and my family. It has been hard finding the motivation to keep going out. Even with all of this there is no guarantee that I will finish the Dragon’s Back. It is one of the hardest races in the world and a finish wont be guaranteed until I have crossed the line on the final day and I have my trophy in my hand.

The following is a short tale from a run that I did last weekend on the edge of the beautiful north Devon coastline. It shows how even with all of this ultra training and experience that just a few miles can all of a sudden feel insurmountable.

Mental strength in an ultra is something that you have to train and work on, just like any other aspect of the race. On any single day of the Dragon’s Back each competitor will likely go through something similar more than once and each time it will be all they can do to keep moving forwards. Everyone that starts the Dragon’s Back is the kind of runner that is used to pushing on when their body says no more, moving forwards when others have given up. Even then this event is so tough that history says nearly two thirds of the field wont make it to the finish of the final day.

Hopefully this will also demonstrate that my efforts are worth a £ or two in donations for a worthy cause. www.justgiving.com/dragonsback2017

diggingdeep

On Saturday I took part in a race which was the same length as Dragon’s Back day 1, but not quite as hilly. I went out hard, anticipating a decent finish. I was also trying a few things out prior to Dragon’s Back, food, gear etc. The picture above is quite significant for me because it shows the section of the route where I blew up, and plummeted down the rankings. I shall explain 🙂

Up until this last section I was flying, I generally felt good and was well ahead of my previous time on this course. Then the wheels fell off. I had a proper ultra “crash.” Stomach issues earlier in the day combined with pushing on a bit too hard meant my energy vanished suddenly. I went from floating along to stumbling. My brain was quietly but persistently telling me to quit. I wobbled onwards. I poured away 700ml of energy drink which I knew I would never drink. I sipped on my electrolyte drink, and poked down an isotonic gel. My brain carried on with the bad news. I should turn around, and walk back to my car. I should also quit Dragon’s Back immediately because I would never do it. I should give up running and become a couch potato.

I stumbled on. Runners overtaking me every few minutes, making me feel worse and worse despite their apparent sympathy.

As I arrived at a gate on a clifftop I turned to face the view and just sat down, cross legged on the ground, looking out across the sea. You can see this at the 5:33:20 mark in the picture.

A runner passed and asked if I was ok. I replied that I was fine.

I was sat next to a junction on the path. Turning left would take me straight to the finish and my car. Turning right would mean the torture would continue. This was a typical “red pill” or “blue pill” situation. In this sort of situation things do tend to get a little melodramatic, and I get my inspiration from wherever I can. My soul was exposed and my brain was mercilessly harassing it. Telling me to turn left. Quit and it would all be over.

Something refused to give up.

I peeled down my arm protectors, so I could see the tattoo on my wrist. It reads “Never give up.” I stood up, and took a step to the right, pulling out a gel and forcing it down. Brains get awfully despondent when they are low on sugar. I pulled out my map. It was approx. 2km to the top of the hill. I could do 2 km. Once I got to the top the easiest way back to the car would be by following the route of the course and finishing the race.

I took another step, then another. Some more people went past.

For the most part I looked just in front of my feet. Taking it one step at a time. Patiently. Relentlessly. One step at a time. 2km is a long way. It is far more than 2000 steps when creeping slowly forwards. One step at a time. Sipping steadily on my electrolytes until they were gone. Finally I crested the hill and the only way was down.

That final long downhill was taken running. It was barely more than walking speed, but my brain had changed into a different gear. It had stopped trying to sabotage my finish attempt as it had no other choice. Finally I crossed the line, having no idea of my overall placing. It turns out that I had over two thirds of the field still behind me. A good, solid result despite the drama of the final two hours.

Sometimes that horrible, pessimistic inner voice just needs to be ignored. You need to find a way to shut it up. A way to carry on, and keep going. It will pass, and things will get better.

Reading back through this I realise that any reader could be forgiven for thinking that ultra marathon running is a horrible experience, only to be attempted by loons and fools. In reality this particular run was 5 hours of glorious trail running with great company and in amongst some of the best scenery in the UK. 40 minutes of it was utterly shit and another hour was pretty uncomfortable. To finish felt simply amazing, as completing any ultra always feels. The emotional pay off is always an amazing high.

My next big race is The Dragon’s Back itself. If you follow my Facebook page and my blog I’ll share the link to my tracker and you can keep an eye on my progress. Rest assured that this challenge is absolutely worth one or two pennies in donations, as is the cause that I am raising money for. Dartmoor Search and Rescue. www.justgiving.com/dragonsback2017

The three stages of an ultramarathon

The 3 ultramarathon stages

Generally when I run an ultramarathon I find that I go through three distinct stages. This will be different for everyone, and ideally my race would be a little more balanced, so this isn’t something you should be aiming for. If I was perfect then I guess there would be no stage 1, and I could get into survival mode right from the start. Easy to say, but much harder to do.

Stage 1 – The start

The startYour adrenaline is pumping and your heart rate is raised. You set off too fast. You slow your pace, but you know it is still too fast. Your thoughts spiral around “can I do this?” “This is going to be too hard!” “This is going to hurt.”

Time paces randomly, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, flowing with your emotions.

You don’t drink enough. You don’t start eating soon enough.

You don’t know if you can finish. You don’t know what is going to happen.

Depending on the race you might be going through this for 2-3 hours. It is my least favourite part of the race. Phantom niggles come and go.

Stage 2 – The middle/slog/survival

The middleThis is the longest part of the race and you will spend much of your time here.

The pain has started to become consistent and your high pace, and lack of attention to nutrition has caught up to you. Your pace slows.

The first part of this stage is crucial. If you get it wrong you absolutely wont finish. Thought processes change from that of speed and worrying about the future to focusing on the now. What is your body doing? What does it need? You have to dig in, make up for the mistakes you made earlier and focus purely on looking after yourself. Time slows until you settle in, and it is easy for thoughts to get out of control. Once you’ve started to look after your body properly though time vanishes in big chunks. Check points come and go, as do conversations with other racers.

A few people will overtake you when you first hit this phase, but worry not. If you get it right then after the initial slow your consistency will claw them back over the subsequent hours and miles. You will see them again.

Stage 3 – The finish

The finish

This is my favourite stage, but it is also the hardest. It only happens if you looked after yourself in stage 2. If you didn’t then you either haven’t got this far or are so knackered that you can barely walk and it takes forever. If you’ve got stage 2 right though this bit is glorious. This is where the emotional pay off for the earlier hard work starts. And it is characterised by new thoughts and actions.

This stage, for me, begins when my subconscious brain sneaks in a thought: “You can do this.” All of a sudden it is like dawn has come, and sometimes it literally has. My body is hurting, but my form squares up. Further positive thoughts start to enter my brain, and a half crazed smile usually appears on my face. My pace starts to pick up, and I might change my nutrition, switching to more sugar based products to boost my emotions further and help me charge to the finish.

If I’ve done stage 2 right then my stomach can take the food, and I start to put time into the other racers. There is still a battle with time, which slows further and further in the final kilometres. You have to push that away though. Focus on form and making each step count. Keep sipping on your drink. Keep pushing in the high energy carbs. Keep pushing until someone tells you to stop, and hangs a medal around your neck.

Crossing the finish line feels good, but it feels even better if you managed yourself properly in stage 2 and got to stage 3. The emotional reward for getting all this right is the best feeling you can possibly imagine, and will soon have you lining up the next race, the next challenge.

If you ever see me race then you will know if I’ve got it right because, even though I’ve been running all day, when I come into sight at the finish I will be at an inexplicable sprint with emotions crazily high. When the medal goes on though the energy is gone and the weight of it will almost drag me to the floor. When I lift myself up and hobble off to the car that crazy half-grin will still be there though.

See you on the trails 🙂

Beacons Ultra 2016

MedalWelcome to my race report/review of the Brecon Beacons Ultra 2016. It is a challenging event in a beautiful location and features a 23 mile loop which you do twice. There are only two hills on it, nothing to worry about. It’s also held in the remote welsh countryside in November and the weather is absolutely guaranteed to be sunny and pleasantly warm….. I shall give a short brief on the race itself and then follow it up with my experience from the day itself.

Elevation profile Beacons Ultra 2016

See, only two hills.

Beacons Ultra 2016

The Beacons Ultra race entry for 2016 was capped at 300, and it was a sellout. There were a few no-shows on the day as the weather forecast was a touch unpredictable, but still a pretty big field. The positive atmosphere surrounding the event starts long before you turn up, thanks to the sterling effort that Likeys have put into it over the years. This year it was run by Force 12 Events, but Likeys were still heavily involved. The info provided on the race website is brief, but clear and doesn’t leave anything out. The community support around the Beacons Ultra is great, and it has a well supported Facebook page here. Alternatively swing by Likeys in Brecon and have a chat with Martin or Kevin, they also have a lot of good stock and interesting things to buy 😀

You can register the day before the race at Likeys in Brecon, or first thing on race day morning. The race starts nice and early at 0730. This means you are off and running almost as soon as it is light, and you can make the most of the daylight hours. There were two aid stations, approximately 8 miles apart plus the control at the start/finish. There were also marshals at other points on the course and reflective signage too, as well as an unofficial checkpoint or two. The route can be described simply as a long flat bit in between two hills that you go around twice, but that is entirely misleading and belies the true and technical nature of a large portion of the course. I shall sum it up by saying that you shouldn’t expect to make up much time on the descents. Personally I really enjoyed the course. It was spectacular, challenging and varied. As it was my first time the starting lap was very much a sighting lap for me. I then broke the second lap down into sections in my head. This meant that I was never worrying about the whole lap, just the bit I was on and it never became overwhelming. Just in case you wondered the sections were:

  • Canal
  • Sod of a hill
  • Down to the checkpoint
  • The long grind
  • Ascend the gap
  • Technical descent
  • Fields and road
  • Canal

When you pass the start/finish at the end of lap one hot drinks are on offer as well as a few snacks. There also seemed to be hot drinks at the other marshals points by then too. A nice move, but not something I took advantage of on this occasion as I was focusing on getting a bit of a wriggle on 🙂

When you finally cross the finish line you get your medal, a handshake and enter the village hall. It was lovely and warm, with a variety of snacks and drinks for finishers, including hot soup and bread.

Overall I heartily recommend the Brecon Beacons Ultra. My experience at the Beacons Ultra 2016 was entirely positive. It was well organised, well supported and the course was entirely beautiful. I also got to sample all the weather that you can possibly get in one day in the UK!

My race – Beacons Ultra 2016

Fuelled on this occasion by Bounce Energy Balls (review coming soon which will be available here), Torq Energy and High 5 Zero tabs 🙂

I’ve spent a few years now turning up to ultras and simply striving to finish. Each finish bought with it a sense of accomplishment, but there have been a few tough failures too. I certainly believe that failing an ultra can be tougher than finishing one for a variety of reasons. A change in mindset has meant that I’ve achieved all of my ultra goals this year, including finishing two tough events that have beaten me in the past. The Thames Trot and The Oner. This all came together even more when I race in Iceland as part of Fire and Ice in August 2016. In Iceland I found my confidence and started to believe that maybe I could do a little more than just strive to finish. Maybe I should expect more from myself and become a little more aggressive in my goal setting. The Beacons Ultra 2016 was my first ultra with this new approach, a new (more mental) me, and some tough pacing goals. I tentatively started talking in such a way on Facebook, keen to put a little bit of pressure on myself to prevent any last minute weakness.

As part of this change I’ve taken on a new coach, Charles Miron of Solo Sport Systems. I know Charles well after spending 6 nights in a tent with him and 6 others in Iceland. When I found out he was a professional coach it was a no brainer to seek his support. Part of my brief with Charles just before the race went something like this:

  • Charles: “So, do you have a target for Saturday?”
  • Me: “Well, it starts at 0730 and I would like to finish before dark, so maybe 9 to 10 hours??”
  • Charles: “…….You aren’t going to do it in 9 hours.”

I felt crestfallen, I really thought that was a reasonable goal. But it sounded like I should be expecting to run in the dark. Charles continued

  • Charles: “I think you can do it in 8.”

I nearly fell off my chair.

We discussed the terrain, and what I thought it would be like (I was wrong and underestimated it significantly!), and then we continued discussing pacing, food and hydration strategies until I had scribbled all over a side of A4 paper. Come Saturday morning I had everything worked out, I was well prepared and despite the pressure I felt remarkably relaxed.

For the first lap I kept mostly to myself, moving along the canal with the bulk of the other people and into the first and most challenging hill. It has false summit after false summit and was a steep slog. I fell further and further behind on my pacing goal. This was ok because I knew it would happen and I planned to make it up along the descents and flatter sections. Looking around every now and then was well rewarded. The morning was stunning and the colours in the landscaped just popped. As we crested Tor Y Foel we could see snow topped hills with a small amount of cloud on the top in front of us.

Snow capped hills

The descent was very steep, but not too slippery. I descended down to a rolling track with the grace of an 80kg one winged bumble bee. I didn’t make up much time here, and the rolling descent to the valley floor was very technical and loose in places before joining a wide forest track. As I climbed this track I noticed that I was creeping my way through the field. I would run alongside people for a bit, and as they waned I would carry on at a steady pace, moving up to the next group. My legs were burning as the deceptive trail crept upwards and I shifted my gait to move the stress around the various muscle groups. I felt ok, so I carried on pushing. In hindsight it was too fast and I certainly paid for it later.

We came off the track and had a short but icy tarmac descent before turning onto another trail. At the end of this we started the climb proper up to “The Gap.” This was a very loose few km, climbing at an awkward angle. For me it was too shallow to walk, but too steep to run. I carried on with my poor decision making and chose to run when I should have done a bit of both. I made up another few places though. As we passed the top the terrain underfoot got even worse and it was a really tricky descent down to checkpoint 2. My stomach was starting to feel a bit bloated, but I ignored it and carried on. As the course rolled its way through a few fields, along a few roads and back to the canal I found myself in the company of the then 2nd placed lady and we chatted all the way back to the end of the first lap. Somewhere along the way a spectator shouted that we were in about 40th spot overall. This was much higher up the field than I would normally expect to be. I was struggling to keep up by the time we got to the checkpoint. I was very aware though that keeping up with her meant that I was rapidly getting back on track with my pacing strategy, so I hung on for a 4:04 first lap.

I stopped just long enough to top up my bottles and started lap two. It was now an effort to maintain my target heart rate and my stomach felt awful. I was failing to put food or drink into it, and I was beginning to get worried. I slogged/shuffled the three miles along the canal and started up Tor Y Foel for the second time. The endless false summits didn’t seem so bad now that I knew what to expect. I was also chatting to another chap and it made the climb much easier. It distracted me from having a stress about my pacing! After the summit I had a quick pee, and wasn’t too happy with the bright yellow colour of it. I resolved then and there to sort myself out, or this would be a punishing last 20 miles. With this in mind I drained a bottle by the time I got to CP1, and topped it up, adding an electrolyte tab. I then caught up with another chap and we made conversation all the way up the gap. We were both suffering and were both glad to have someone to talk to as we ran/walked our way upto the top. By now it was snowing and the landscape was even more beautiful with large white flakes falling all around us.

We ran together for another couple of miles, but I was starting to pick up. Consciously rehydrating and running at a slower pace had bought my stomach back around, and I could get some energy through it. The snow turned to rain as we descended and I could hear voices behind us, catching us up. I ran on, my heart span up to a decent level and I was off. It felt good to be running strongly again. As I passed the marshal to rejoin the canal I asked if there was anyone in front of me. I was hoping to have someone to hunt down in the last few miles. My hopes were dashed though as the marshal told me that the previous person went through quite some time ago! Never mind. I stomped onwards ignoring the pain in my legs. The canal slowly wound its way through the countryside and even at a good pace it took a while for the final bridge to come into view.

The finish was back at the village hall, and it felt amazing to power to the line and then finally to stop and take my medal. I had clocked a total time of 8 hours and 46 minutes, and was done half an hour before it got dark. Charles had sent me a message of congratulations within minutes of my watch syncing to Training Peaks 🙂

As for my overall placing it turned out that I wasn’t 40th at all. I was 22nd with my best ultra placing ever. What a feeling. 🙂 To give you an idea how different this is for me, my previous expectation would have been about 2 hours longer and 80 places lower in the field!!!

My next race is a little bit bigger, a little bit tougher, and a lot longer. It is the main reason that I asked Charles to coach me. Watch this space over the next few months as I train for The Berghaus Dragon’s Back 2017.

Here are some pictures from the Beacons Ultra 2016. I got lazy after the first lap and stopped snapping away, so the pictures are all from the first 20 miles.